STUDENT leaders and human rights workers have demanded Edinburgh University dumps its shareholding in a firm that helps make “killer” attack drones for the American military machine.
They said part of the university’s £230 million endowment fund – Britain’s largest after those held by Oxford and Cambridge universities – had been used to buy shares in Ultra Electronics Holdings, which manufactures key components for unmanned aerial vehicles.
These have been deployed to carry out US missile attacks on Islamist militants in Pakistan.
A range of investments in fossil fuel companies, including Shell, should also be shed, they added.
Nick Dowson, of Edinburgh University’s People and Planet group, which has just launched a Responsible Investment Campaign, said students were “shocked” when details of the shareholding came to light.
He said: “US predator drones are being used to terrorise populations – in contravention of international law – in Pakistan.
“I’m worried that the university is losing sight of the wider picture – because of the closed nature of the investment committee, there’s not that oversight.”
Divestment calls came after the university scored two out of three in the most recent Green League/Guardian “positive investment” ratings, which student leaders described as a “could do better” result.
Lethal American drone strikes on militant cells based in Pakistan have become a persistent thorn in the side in relations between the two countries, with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif earlier this month summoning US Embassy charge d’affaires Richard Hoagland to protest against the attacks.
Mr Dowson said the row demonstrated the need for greater “transparency” over how Edinburgh University invests money.
He said: “I’m not saying they’ve done this knowingly but we need to be properly screening the investments as they’re made. In terms of structures, what’s needed is a separate ethical investment committee, which has staff and students on it, where concerns and advice about certain firms can be brought.”
Catherine Gilfedder, advocate for UK human rights charity Reprieve, backed the students’ call, saying: “The University should take a responsible stand and undertake to end all investment in US drones.”
But bosses at the university insisted that it was committed to investing responsibly and ethically.
A spokesman told the Evening News: “Edinburgh is the first university in Europe to have signed up to the UN Principles of Responsible investment.”
DRONE strikes by the US military, particularly on militant cells in Pakistan, have sparked a growing chorus of criticism across Scotland and the world.
During a speech in Washington DC last month, President Barack Obama, left, pledged to continue the attacks, which he described as part of a legitimate campaign against terrorists.
The speech was praised as a “significant step towards increased transparency” – It marked the first time Mr Obama had spoken about the programme.
Signs have emerged that the use of drones is being scaled back – reports indicate that 11 strikes have been carried out so far this year, compared to 50 in 2012 which killed 378 people.